Life as Teacher

We must now seize this pivotal moment in our collective history to recognize that we are in fact part of Earth’s biosphere and transform our economies accordingly. Life is most vibrant and creative when each living being finds its place of service to the whole. For our species is to thrive and prosper, we must each find our place of service to one another and to the larger community of life on which our continued existence depends.

The term biosphere was coined by geologist Eduard Suess in 1875 to refer to “the place on earth’s surface where life dwells.” It is Earth’s narrow zone of life, the global ecosystem comprising all of Earth’s regional and local ecosystems. 

The idea that this zone of life is properly understood as a living, self-organizing superorganism traces back to a lecture in 1789 by James Hutton, considered the father of geology. This idea was more recently popularized as the Gaia hypothesis by James Lovelock.

See Learning from Life for the story of how the Forum became involved in the application of insights from the New Biology to the design of economic systems. 

Lessons of Life's Experience

Organizing ourselves to partner with Earth's biosphere properly begins with identifying the biosphere’s underlying organizing principles. Life has learned a good deal since the first early bacterium sprang to life 3.9 billion years ago. Its story is rich with insights into life's remarkable abilities and potentials. For those of us who would learn to live, there is no greater teacher.

We might begin with the observable fact that Earth’s biosphere is segmented into countless self-organizing ecosystems, each exquisitely adapted to its particular place on Earth to optimize the sustainable use of locally available resources in service to life. It involves a highly sophisticated and complex fractal structure of nested self-reliant, progressively smaller-scale ecosystems. The challenge before us is to learn to mimic that structure and its extraordinary capacity for cooperative self-organization.

Mutual Empowerment

Since our early turn to dominator systems of organization, we humans have been inclined to see life as a brutal competitive struggle for food, sex, and survival, perhaps to justify our imperial brutality to one another. Although life’s competitive elements contribute to its dynamism, competition is only a subtext to the larger story of life’s extraordinary capacity for cooperative self-organization.

The individual cell or multicellular organism can no more exist without the larger community of life than the community of life can exist without the individuals that comprise it.

The key to the secret of life’s success in populating the Earth with ever larger, more complex and capable organisms is found in the ability of its ability of trillions upon trillions of cells, organisms, and communities of organisms to self-organize into complex sub-systems of cyclical processes that link reactions requiring energy with those that yield energy. Each maintains its own identity and health while contributing to the life of the whole. Each balances its own needs with the needs of the larger community.

Energy flows continuously and simultaneously in a never-ending dance of cooperative exchange between the substructures of each individual cell, between the cells of multi-celled organisms, between the multi-celled organisms of individual ecosystems, and between the ecosystems of a living planet. The individual cell or multicellular organism can no more exist without the larger community of life than the community of life can exist without the individuals that comprise it.

Life is a process of mutual empowerment and, therefore, can be understood only in terms of communities of relationships. The more complex, diverse, and coherent the relationships internal to a living system, the greater the potential is of the system and each of its component members.

There is no counterpart in nature to the hierarchical command and control systems we humans have come to believe are essential to maintain coherence and order in human societies. "Intelligent Organisms"


Adapted from Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition, and The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism